Causes and correlates of prison inmate misconduct: A systematic review of the evidence



Benjamin Steiner, H. Daniel Butler, Jared M. Ellison

Journal of Criminal Justice

November–December 2014




Inmate rule violations or “misconducts” reflect offending within a prison, and this study involved a systematic review of studies of the causes/correlates of inmate misconduct published between 1980 and 2013.


An exhaustive search of relevant high impact journals yielded 98 studies of causes/correlates of inmates misconduct published between 1980 and 2013. The final models from these studies were examined to assess the impact of the predictor variables on misconduct.


Findings revealed that predictor variables reflecting inmates’ background characteristics (e.g., age, prior record), their institutional routines and experiences (e.g., prior misconducts), and prison characteristics (e.g., security level) all impact misconduct.


Researchers should apply general theories of crime and deviance (e.g., control) that can incorporate all of the empirically relevant inmate and prison characteristics to the study of offending in prison (misconduct). Researchers should also examine the sources of variability in the effects of predictor variables across studies.









Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee